Is ATALANTA a Humanitarian Mission?

By Christian Bueger

European politicians, diplomats and military persistently argue in public that the EU’s anti-piracy mission ATALANTA is a humanitarian mission. “Protecting the transports of the World Food Programme is the top priority of the operation” is a statement heard frequently. Now, it is true that the frigates of ATALANTA provide safe routes for vessels transporting WFP goods. Yet, does that justify the claim that ATALANTA is a humanitarian mission? In this contribution I argue that the current justification of ATALANTA as a humanitarian mission is exceptionally weak. I proceed in speculating why official spokespersons although they are certainly aware of the weakness of the argumentation, nonetheless rely on such a justification. Read more →

A reliable ally in the fight against piracy? Introducing Puntland

By Jan Stockbruegger
There is a general agreement among academics, journalists and policy makers that piracy cannot be defeated at sea. It has to be fought on land. Since the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) is too weak to do so, many point to regional states as potential partners of the international community. Especially Puntland seems to be a good candidate, given that many pirates operate from its territory. However, some experts claim that the Puntland authorities are in fact involved in piracy. [1] In this blog entry we will briefly introduce Puntland and its difficult (but inevitable) role as a local ally in the fight against piracy. Read more →

From criminals to conflict parties? The changing face of Somali piracy

By Jan Stockbruegger

Pirates are considered to be criminals. They hijack ships for ransom and make a fortune. They do not have political objectives. However, in a recent article in the New York TimesJeffrey Gettleman reports that Somali pirates are indeed getting involved in politics and take sides in the civil war. If this holds true, it marks a new development in Somalian piracy. Pirates may just be about to change their face from profit-driven criminals seeking ransoms to conflict parties and political actors actively shaping the future of their country. Read more →

An International Piracy Tribunal? The forthcoming Security Council Resolution and the Further Legalization of Responses to Piracy


According to a recent Security Council Report Update Russia is sponsoring a new Security Council Resolution on Piracy of Somalia. The draft resolution has been circulating among member states since the beginning of April and is generally supported. It could therefore soon be introduced officially into the Security Council. It is notably the first time that Russia is actively initiating a piracy resolution in the Council. According to Security Council Report, the draft resolution focuses particularly on the legal mechanisms and institutions to prosecute pirates. International law and previous UN Security Council Resolutions allow any state to try suspected pirates. Yet, national legislations often lack clarity and the political will to prosecute pirates is often equally lacking. Moreover Kenya, one of the few regional states that have agreed to prosecute pirates in their domestic courts, recently announced that it will not takeover any further suspects. The draft resolution therefore asks the Secretary-General to prepare a report on the possible options and mechanisms to facilitate the prosecution of pirates.

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Pirates Strike Again

In the past weeks, the counter-piracy efforts off the coast of Somalia appeared to be finally paying off. In well coordinated operations in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean several pirate gangs were disrupted and their mother-ships destroyed by international naval forces. It seems that the more aggressive counter-piracy strategy aims at preventing the pirates from reaching the high sea and to stop them before they can stage attacks on merchant and fishing vessels. On 22 March, EU NAVFOR thus triumphed that “Five PAGs swept aside by EU NAVFOR warship TROMP”[1][2].

Only one day later, however, reports emerged saying that pirates have struck again: a Bermuda flagged cargo ship has been hijacked 120 kilometres off the coast of Oman[3], while on the same day a Turkish-owned ship has been captured 1100 miles off the coast of Somalia – closer to India than to the African continent[4]. According to an official quoted by the BBC, ‘this marks an increase in the pirates range’, a tendency that had already begun in 2009. Reportedly, both hijackings took place outside the are that is patrolled by naval forces from the EU, NATO the US and other nations[5]. Also at the beginning of March 2010, a Norwegian oil tanker was hijacked near Madagascar[6]. These incidents clearly show that Somali pirates are far from being defeated and continue to challenge the international community. Read more →

Gunmen, Fish and Puntland: the Professionalization of Piracy?

By Jan Stockbruegger

Somalian Gunman, Source: Reuters

A new  “Report of the Monitoring Group on Somalia pursuant to Security Council resolution 1853” was published on March 10th. The lead author of the report, Mat Bryden, is a well-experienced specialist in Somalia culture and politics. While the report focuses on the development in Somalia more broadly, it entails also some interesting (new) insights on current developments on piracy off Somalia.

According to the report, Pirates transnationalize and establish political contacts beyond the immediate region. According to the report Libyan president Ghaddafi has expressed an invitation to leaders of pirate organizations (p. 39).

The report re-emphasizes that the “coast guard”-argument (the claim that piracy is first and foremost a response to overfishing and toxic dumping off Somalia)  is implausible, although it continues to be raised in international news coverage. As the report puts it:

“Although the Monitoring Group does not deny the legitimacy of these arguments — and has indeed cited them in its reports of November 2003 and December 2008 — investigations over the course of the mandate leave no doubt that they are at best of secondary, and in some cases of peripheral, importance in understanding and curbing the piracy phenomenon” (p. 36).

Earlier information suggests that pirates are organized in fairly small and loose gangs with flat hierarchical structures. This, however, the report suggests might be changing. It seems that some pirate networks are not only expanding to neighbouring states and growing in size, but that they are perhaps also developing more  hierarchical structures. As it is detailed, some pirate gangs meanwhile include standing armed militias in the hundreds — according to pirate leaders (e.g. p. 41).

It is, however, unclear if this implies that pirates are professionalizing. Their weapons are similar to those used by other militias in the region and the use of sophisticated information technologies and night sight devices,  are not wide spread. Vessels for hijacking remain selected rather randomly on the spot and attacks appear rather unplanned. On several occasions, warships were reportedly mistaken for merchant ships (p. 36).

The government of Puntland appears to be even more entangled in the piracy operations than already known. Leaders of pirate gangs are protected by the government or even formally integrated in the military structures (whatever that means). Moreover, it seems proven now that president ‘Faroole’, the minister of interiors Ilkajiir as well as Samatar, the Minister of Internal Security (he was reportedly fired last week[1]), have been on the paylist of pirates. As the report details in its case study of a pirate leader called Hanaano and his role in the campaigns for the Presidential elections in Puntland in January 2009 (p. 41):

“According to multiple independent sources, Hanaano contributed over $200,000 to Ilkajiir’s political campaign. Ilkajiir ultimately lost the election to Abdirahman Mohamed “Faroole” — who benefited from much larger pirate contributions to his political war chest — and was awarded the post of Minister of the Interior.”

UNSC meets on Somalia, Source UN

These observations from a very trustworthy source indicate that piracy networks become more and more powerful players in the region. They organize themselves newly and differently, although it is still open how that affects their business and whether they professionalize. Further inquiry in these issues will be needed. While the report is indeed a call for revising the land-based strategies to encounter piracy, there is no clear sign that the Security Council will shift its policy.

[1] Somalia: Puntland President appoints new head of intelligence service, Garowe Online, 12.03.2010

Towards Blue Justice: Common Heritage and Common Interest in the Maritime

Peter Sutch, Cardiff University

The importance and complexity of our political, economic and environmental relationship to the sea makes the evolution of a contemporary normative vision of the maritime essential. We need Blue Justice for the blue economy and for the increasingly contentious politics of the maritime. In this blog I want to make a plea for a renewed political theory of the Maritime – A second Grotian moment that generates a Mare Iustitia rather than a Mare Liberum.

In a recent and fascinating piece on this website, Barry J. Ryan urged a critical engagement with the sea and its architecture of freedom and argued persuasively for a normative vision for the sea. Because readers of this blog will have access to that work I want to start there and begin to outline the contours of blue justice. Barry Ryan took the tensions between the freedom of the sea and the idea that the sea is the common heritage of mankind (as well as our outdated distinction between politics on land and politics at sea) as the starting point for his critical and normative argument. He also showed how powerful states carve up this common heritage securing for themselves, rather than mankind, the commercial and military benefits of our common freedom of the sea. We can learn a lot from this – we clearly need normative principles that encourage us to pursue activities in the maritime with at least some concession to the common good. But the foundations of blue justice are such that determining the common good is even more complex than this suggests. The multiple and fragmented legal frameworks that apply to the sea divide the maritime as much as the freedom grabbing of littoral states. Read more →

International Relations Must Challenge the Freedom of Security at Sea

Barry J Ryan, Keele University

We should be embarrassed that so little has been written about the politics of the sea in the field of International Relations (IR). Traditionally limited to the study of relations between states, even the cultural turn that so reinvigorated scholarship in IR a few decades ago has maintained the focus of research on political phenomena that occur on land. Flicking through a basic textbook in IR one would be forgiven for concluding that IR is a landlocked discipline. As a discipline, its knowledge of the role played by the sea in global history is, simply put, too basic and thus dangerous. More often than not it comes down to simplistic statements about the freedom of the sea that are too rarely critically challenged. The danger lies when maritime commentary bases its analysis on this freedom, writing about it as though it has always existed, that it is sacrosanct and that it must be maintained for the good of humanity. Military intervention is usually justified on the basis that the freedom of the sea is a fundamental principle of human progress. The open sea, we are told, must be secured, for commercial reasons, for environmental reasons, and for moral reasons. Read more →

What Future for the Contact Group on Somali Piracy? Options for Reform

Christian Bueger, Cardiff University

2016 marks the beginning of the transition of the counter-piracy response in the Horn of Africa. Many states have already significantly reduced their involvement in counter-piracy. Recent revisions of the counter-piracy architecture raise the question of what the future holds for the main coordination body, the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia (CGPCS).


Recently, the High Risk Area has been revised, which documents that international stakeholders are altering the approach they take to contain piracy. While the US-led Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) have announced in July 2015 to continue their operation, the mandates of the two other missions, NATO’s Operation Ocean Shield and the EU’s EUNAVFOR Atalanta, are under review. There are clear expectations that the EU will continue the mission in one form or another and maintain the Maritime Security Centre Horn of Africa, important for situational awareness in the area. These developments need to be seen against the backdrop of the assessment that no large scale piracy attack was successful since 2012. Notwithstanding, the threat of piracy in the region persists. This is clearly highlighted by the 2015 threat assessment of the military missions and further evidenced by recent reports of low scale hijackings and hostage taking attempts.  Read more →

Contemporary Piracy as an Issue of Academic Inquiry: A Bibliography

Jan Stockbruegger, Brown University, & Christian Bueger, Cardiff University

We have compiled a new version of the Piracy Studies Bibliography, which you can access as PDF here.

The aim of this bibliography is to gather a comprehensive collection of academic works on contemporary (post WWII) maritime piracy, with a focus on academic books, journals and working paper. In addition the bibliography includes some titles on the history of piracy, and some general interest literature on piracy. The present version includes almost 600 entries. It documents the extent to which piracy has become a serious issue of academic inquiry, and how investigations of piracy contribute to general discourse and debates in International Relations, Area Studies, Maritime Studies, International Law, Criminology, and other disciplines. We hope that this bibliography helps you a little bit to find your way through the piracy studies literature. Please access the bibliography here.

Economic Factors for Piracy: The Effect of Commodity Price Shocks

Alexander Knorr, University of Colorado

The_Battle_of_Trafalgar_by_William_Clarkson_StanfieldModern maritime piracy has become a significant issue which costs the global economy $24.5 billion per year. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) reports that attacks in major waterways have increased over the past decades. Extensive research has been done with regard to countering piracy and understanding the resurgence of attacks since the early ‘90s. What are the mechanisms which drive different people in different countries across the globe to all participate in such illegal activities? One of these mechanisms is addressed in a research notes article recently published in the journal Studies in Conflicts and Terrorism.

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Norm Subsidiarity in Maritime Security: Why East Asian States Cooperate in Counter-Piracy

Terrence Lee and Kevin McGahan, National University of Singapore

Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia are the three key littoral countries that border the Straits of Malacca, a major waterway and transit area in Southeast Asia which has traditionally witnessed a fair amount of maritime piracy through the ages.  While these countries generally hold many things in common, such as historical, linguistic and cultural ties, they are also differ significantly in terms of strategic and economic interests.  Despite these important differences, why have Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia been able to cooperate in implementing and enforcing an anti-piracy regime that has been relatively effective? In a recently published article in the Pacific Review, we seek to engage this research question. We initially draw on theories in international relations that are informed by rational choice to explain international cooperation, namely neorealism and neoliberal institutionalism. We argue that key developments of the anti-piracy regime are not fully explained by such rationalist theories, which often stress strategic and material interests of states. In fact, despite rising levels of piracy in the Straits that threatened commercial and strategic goals, for many years the littoral states demonstrated only modest cooperative initiatives.

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